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How to Clean Your Shower Curtain

A white shower curtain, with a waffle weave, hanging on a curved chrome shower rod
Ana Anderson/Shutterstock

When was the last time you unhooked your shower curtain and gave it a good cleaning? If the answer is “Never” or “I just throw them out and get a new one,” you’re not alone—but it’s easy to clean your shower curtain at home.

Cleaning your shower curtain is a wee bit more time consuming than tearing it down and putting a fresh one up, but it is worth it to give it a good cleaning whenever it starts to look dingy. Not only do you save money, but you end up tossing less in the trash over time. If you’re wondering what the best way to clean your shower curtain is, you have a few options.

A Shower Curtain Overview

Whether you have a decorative cloth curtain with a plastic liner, a cloth curtain and a plastic curtain, or your plastic shower curtain stands alone; you can wash your shower curtain in the washing machine.

Even cloth curtains with a second plastic curtain behind still get dirty. You’ll want to wash both of your curtains, though you may be able to clean the outer one (which is pretty much just for show) less often.

There’s no set rule to how often you should wash shower curtains. If you have a larger family or your career or hobbies leave you scrubbing off a lot of dirt at the end of the day, you may want to wash yours every other month. If your shower curtains seem to stay pretty clean, you should still consider washing them at the change of the seasons. Even if they don’t look dirty, they’re still accumulating grime, mineral deposits, and odors over time.

Check your cloth curtain to see if it has a care tag and follow those directions. If it doesn’t, cold water wash and hang dry is suitable. Don’t throw cloth curtains with any plastic on them into the dryer—depending on how hot your dryer gets; the plastic may melt and make a mess in your dryer (at best) or cause a fire (at worst). You’ll have a better chance of avoiding lots of unnecessary wrinkles in cloth curtains by hang drying them as well.

The Easy Way: Stick It in the Washing Machine

For cloth shower curtains, washing them in the washing machine is the go-to way to get them clean. Wash on a cold cycle to keep vibrant colors from fading. Skip the fabric softener, since this isn’t a piece of clothing in need of softness.

For cloth curtains that have a protective plastic side and plastic curtains, you can still wash them in the washing machine. In this case, you’ll want to toss a couple of your soiled bathroom towels in with them (you can also toss in your bath mats too, and get extra cleaning points for cleaning two infrequently laundered items at the same time). This will help lessen the number of wrinkles and creasing. Again, use a cold water wash cycle. You should skip the dryer for all shower liners and curtains, but especially, as we noted above, for ones that have any plastic in them.

You can use regular laundry detergent, but if you have excess soap scum or stains (like hair dye) to deal with, consider using a cup of vinegar added to the wash as well. This will help remove stains and make whites whiter and colors brighter.

The Stubborn Stain Busting Way: Hand Wash It

There are a few reasons why you may need to hand wash your shower curtain.

  • Hard to Remove Stains – Difficult stains may need a hands-on touch. While, with cloth curtains, you can spray on some clothing stain remover, with plastic shower curtains you’ll want to scrub them with a baking soda paste. Add just enough water to some baking soda to form a paste, place it directly on the stain, then let it sit for a minute before you scrub and then rinse. Repeat if necessary for tougher stains.
  • Portable Washing Machine – If you don’t have a full-size washing machine, a shower curtain may pose too big of a load.
  • Washing at the Laundromat – Some laundromats have rules about washing larger items or items with certain materials. Check with yours before you bring in your shower curtain.

You can wash your shower curtain right in the shower or the bathtub, or if you want more space to work in, you can take it outside. If you wash it inside, make sure you keep the bottom in the tub until your clean curtain has drip-dried thoroughly, or you’ll end up with a wet floor.

If you wash your shower curtain outside, you’ll be less likely to splash water all over the bathroom while scrubbing tough soap scum. Once your curtain is clean, hang it on the clothesline and rinse it off with the garden hose. Leave it hanging until it’s dry, and then bring it in to put back up.

Here are some of the natural products you can use for handwashing shower curtains.

  • Vinegar – Vinegar is an all-purpose cleaner that is extremely affordable, and you probably already have some in your home. Because it’s good at removing caked-on sediment, it’s perfect for cleaning mildew from your plastic shower curtains. Mix equal amounts of water and white vinegar and use this to wipe down your plastic shower curtain. This mix is fine to use on any color or design. You may need to put a little elbow grease into your scrubbing. You can also put this vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle to spray the curtain down and let it sit for ten minutes before wiping it down. Rinse the curtain with water then hang to dry.
  • Baking Soda – Baking soda is another cleaning agent you’ll find in your kitchen that helps boost colors and whiten whites. It’s a great additive to a wash load, but it’s also excellent for cleaning your dirty shower curtains. Baking soda adds a little bit of abrasiveness to your cleaning style, so it’s great for getting rid of set-in soap scum. Mix a paste of water and baking soda and scrub your shower curtain with it with a rag or washcloth. You can use this in combination with your vinegar cleaning method.

While bleach is excellent at whitening dirty white shower curtains, it poses some health and environmental issues. If you use it, use extreme caution. Vinegar and baking soda, and a little elbow grease will get your shower curtains just as clean, without the harsh smell.

One Final Tip: Keep Backups on Hand

We don’t know how things play out at your house, but around here we usually don’t notice the shower curtain needs a bit of freshening until it’s too late to fresh it up before company arrives.

Consider having a backup shower curtain (or a couple, depending on how many showers you have in your home) on hand. You never know when you’ll have last minute company coming over and want a pristine bathroom. As a bonus, even if you end up never needing to bust out your backup curtain in a flurry of pre-cleaning company, you’ll have a backup for a curtain you particularly like to replace a permanently soiled or damaged one.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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